American anxiety

Marketplace Staff Aug 8, 2006
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American anxiety

Marketplace Staff Aug 8, 2006
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Well, here we go. As we told you earlier, the Fed meets today and we all get to find out the answer to the big question. Will it raise interest rates go up or not? Polls show a lot of Americans are worried the economy may be slowing down. Commentator Kevin Hassett thinks the surveys say more about the national character than the economy.


KEVIN HASSETT: Polls suggest that America is anxious. Many observers blame the labor market. In the past, so the story goes, employers cared about their workers and gave them jobs for life. Today, loyalty and job security are things of the past. You’re on your own out there.

President Clinton introduced this story into the public consciousness in his brilliant 1992 campaign. The whole world has been repeating it ever since. President Bush even told the 2004 Republican convention the same thing.

But hold on. Are things really changing so much? If you look at the numbers, they are, but not they way you think. Things are getting better, much better.

Thirty years ago, under Jimmy Carter, about 3 percent of the workforce lost their job every month. About the same percentage found work. Those numbers have declined sharply since then.

Today, less than 2 percent of workers are separated from their job in a given month. The labor market is getting safer. Workers have faced for a long time and it’s better today than it’s ever been.

So why are we so anxious? I believe that our collective angst has less to do with economics and more to do with our national character.

Back when the odds of being unemployed were much higher, we dealt better with the world’s challenges. We were, as Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield might put it, more “manly.”

“Manliness,” the Harvard professor writes in his new book with that title, “seeks and welcomes drama and prefers times of war, conflict, and risk.” A manly society would be ashamed to admit anxiety in the face of turnover. Today, we wear our angst like a badge of honor.”

One can almost hear actor Dana Carvey’s crotchety old man character responding to us: “You call that job market insecurity. In my day we had real insecurity. And we liked it!”

It’s kind of embarrassing, really. I shudder to think how we might act if times ever got as bad as they were back in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s. The times are getting better, but we aren’t.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Kevin Hassett is Director of Economic Policy Studies at American Enterprise Institute. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks so much for joining us. Have a great day!

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